When I wrote this speech, I never thought I would actually be able to perform it. My life has been quite mundane, a little dull in my opinion. I’ve never broken a bone, never achieved anything at a national or international level, never travelled to incredible places – the only country I have been to out of New Zealand is England, which isn’t exactly full of culture. What has made me who I am? What struggles have I had in my life? I feel like I’m boring, a dull shell of a person. There has only been one issue that has stuck out in my 17 years of life, and it’s one that I can’t really talk about without feeling like I’m being a drama queen.
The anxiety I get you feel right here, right in the pit of your stomach, and then it spreads to your chest, and then it feels like my entire body becomes numb and tingly. For those who haven’t experienced this feeling of dread, it’s almost like, you know when you’re swinging on a chair? You’re leaning back on your chair because you’re bored in class or something, swinging back and forth, back, forth, and then you lean back too far and that split-second of utter panic hits you, yeah? It’s your body preparing for an impact. Imagine that feeling, that tension that grips your whole body and holds it at a standstill, for a period of time that changes every time it emerges. Sometimes it’s fleeting, one moment it’s there, and the next you’re distracted by another thought so it leaves you be. Other times it sticks with you, you carry it around with you all day like a bag of sand tied around your waist.
Anxiety isn’t really that bad, some of you may think. That’s fine for you to think that, it’s understandable that not all of you have experienced it, or seen it, so all you know is the limited exposure you’ve had. I’m not one to judge for lack of experience.
In Year 11, two years ago, is when I was at my worst I believe. Throughout the year I experienced severe anxiety, though it wasn’t obvious at first. It began with me waking in the morning, and I’d feel extremely nauseous – sometimes even ending in me being sick – TMI, I know, I know, but that is what this entire speech is going to be. TMI. I had to go to the doctor multiple times to see what was wrong with me. They had multiple theories. They believed I was pregnant, to begin with, classing my morning nausea as morning sickness. This hypothesis was quickly dismissed after a simple pregnancy test. The next theory was I had too much acid build-up in my stomach so they prescribed me something to reduce my stomach acid – I had to take one before bed, and another in the morning. I quickly realised my stomach acid wasn’t the problem when my body was literally rejecting this medication every morning I woke and tried to take it.
I was fine during the school day, as the queasiness was only in the morning. Then a couple months passed of this constant sickness in the early hours, and it began to spread to the entire day. I was constantly feeling on edge. It was like I had this permanent knot in my stomach, like I was constantly about to burst into a full-blown panic attack. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep well. As a matter of fact, it got to a point where I couldn’t sleep or even be in a room with the light off – it would just send my anxiety through the roof and I’d have a panic attack. This.. thing, it grew, and grew, until I could not be left at home alone. My body was so deprived of a normal eating schedule, and my mind was lacking so much sleep, that my brain began constructing these images, like nightmares in the day, the most commonly occurring was the worry that someone would break into my home and hurt me. All of this was happening within the ‘safety’ of my own home, until I began to have panic attacks at school.
Every waking and sleeping hour of my life I was consumed by this panic. The worst thing about all of this? I didn’t even know why I was so worried about everything and anything. I didn’t know what was making me so anxious all the time, and that’s what made me so angry with myself. My marks in school were great, I felt good about myself as a person. There was nothing to worry about, I should have been happy and fine.
But I wasn’t, and it was beginning to affect more than just myself. My family were getting concerned, my social life wasn’t exactly blooming, and my concentration at school was declining.
It makes me feel weak, the fact that I can’t do certain things without feeling my chest clench in fear. I can’t stay the night at a friends house easily, I can’t always enjoy myself at parties, and there are definitely moments where I can’t even be in my own home. It’s funny because, it doesn’t affect me when I’m speaking in front of people. Right now, granted, I’m pretty shaky, a few butterflies, but this is nothing compared to what I’ve coped with in my past.
Though I have come a long way from where I was back in Year 11, I can still see the little things in my everyday life where it affects me. Sometimes it’s my friends, where they will say the smallest, most harmless thing to me, and later on I will lie awake in bed for hours upon hours, over thinking their words and the meaning behind them. My mind will convince me that everyone of my friends hates me, and easily list multiple reasons. I am aware as I do this – I am being so stupid, I have no reason to be upset about anything do I? Oh, but yes you do, my mind will chime in again, and again, and again. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve gone to sleep with tears in my eyes because of utter frustration. Frustration with myself, with this constant loop of worry I can’t seem to get out of.
I have had people tell me – “It’s all in your head, just chill out.” Do they think I want to feel this way? It’s not something I can run away from.
I am far from being completely free of my anxiety, and I know it could potentially affect my future in a university. In a hall of residence where I have nobody familiar around, in unfamiliar surroundings, it doesn’t exactly set me up for an entirely comfortable time. I do believe I will be able to manage, though, seeing as I have managed to develop coping mechanisms which have allowed me to stay nights away from home easier. Although I speak so negatively of this disorder I’ve struggled with over the years, I can say that it has helped me grow. It’s helped me become more analytical of why I feel the things I do, and it’s aided me in becoming more empathetic of the issues of others.
I also know I am not the only one who has had an experience with anxiety. It’s almost comforting to me: this knowledge that I am not the only one in the world, though it may seem like it at times. Perhaps even some of you are able to relate to parts of my experience, which I think is so interesting. How we, as such an interactive and sociable species, are able to find points of understanding in seemingly negative aspects of one’s personality. All our brains have the same mechanics, the same gears, but they all function in different ways. We can still find similarities and connect through our diversity.
What I want you all to understand, is although my situation was helped partially through talking to others about it, the most powerful thing I found was my self-realisation – what was happening up here. Here is where the issue was, and is, so the only logical thing is my mind is also the place to find the solution. Another thing I want you all to take away is to try your best not to misunderstand others, though I know that is difficult. Different people have different perspectives. If you ever feel misunderstood, or like what you’re feeling isn’t really worth that much – don’t apologise for it. It is so important that we develop a tolerance for the seemingly small issues of other people. Hopefully in doing so, we can construct a more forgiving, and considerate world for all.